Why you should hold on to your identity in a relationship

It's important to have the space to be able to do things on your own when you're in a relationship. A psychologist weighs in

We tend to underestimate the importance of maintaining our identities while in a relationship. But at some point, you have to have lives that exist outside of each other’s.

Counselling psychologist Andreas Mphunga sheds light on the issue.

“Outside of your relationship, you are part of a psycho-social system that exists, and the friendships you have outside of your relationship are part of that system. So it is important for one to have that space to engage with other people without the partner being there,” Mphunga says.

“When you are at home, you are a different person than when you are with your friends. Being able to have those other relationships enables you to interact with people on different levels.”

Mphunga describes this as having an individual identity outside of your relationship.

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“At home you are a husband or wife, but outside that you could also be a politician, a sportsperson, a mentor or a friend. There are other identities that need to be fulfilled to make up a whole person so your relationship is not the only thing that defines who you are.”

He stresses that there are certain dangers associated with losing your individual identity.

“It will eventually get to a point where you will not be able to relate to other people. Your interpersonal relationships will be affected significantly. In many cases, when you do get the opportunity to be somewhere without your partner you will become like a dog that has been released from a leash,” Mphunga explains.

Both parties need to be involved, and need to first go out together with other people before doing it apart

“Another danger is that you might become so clingy that you are often uneasy or uncomfortable when there are other people around the two of you.”

Having the “space” conversation 

Sometimes it’s not evident at the beginning of the relationship that you have been spending quite a lot of time with your partner, and have subsequently alienated a lot of your friends.

When you realise this and want to make a change, your suggestion to make more time for other people outside of the relationship may not go down well. Mphunga offers advice on how to have this conversation.

“In this particular case, it tends to be quite difficult. There might have been insecurities that existed in the relationship and this conversation might just aggravate those,” Mphunga explains.

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“State why you feel you need space. The couple should then experiment by going out and doing things with other people together. They should have another discussion to review the experience.”

After this, the couple should go out separately with each other’s friends and get a sense of the experience when their partner is not present. He says it’s important that this is a two-way street. Instead of saying, “You can stay at home while I go out”, it should be, “Let’s both do this and see how it pans out.”

“Both parties need to be involved, and need to first go out together with other people before doing it apart,” Mphunga says.

“If it means you have to draw up a schedule for it, then that’s also fine.”

He also cautions that there’s a fine line between wanting some space and wanting too much of it.

What are your thoughts?